Visual similarity is stronger than semantic similarity in guiding visual search for numbers
Using a visual search task, we explored how behavior is influenced by both visual and semantic information. We recorded participants’ eye movements as they searched for a single target number in a search array of single-digit numbers (0–9). We examined the probability of fixating the various distractors as a function of two key dimensions: the visual similarity between the target and each distractor, and the semantic similarity (i.e., the numerical distance) between the target and each distractor. Visual similarity estimates were obtained using multidimensional scaling based on the independent observer similarity ratings. A linear mixed-effects model demonstrated that both visual and semantic similarity influenced the probability that distractors would be fixated. However, the visual similarity effect was substantially larger than the semantic similarity effect. We close by discussing the potential value of using this novel methodological approach and the implications for both simple and complex visual search displays.